Cape Town - A feeling of mental distress or misery does not seem to be readily quantifiable. But a US professor believes he has found the formula - and the results are not looking good for South Africa.
The country, with its warm climate, sandy beaches and expansive safari parks, is the eighth most miserable country in the world.
“It’s hardly surprising,” said labour analyst Michael Bagraim.
The formula, which focuses on four primary factors - inflation, unemployment, lending rates and GDP - is known as the “misery index”. It started off as the brainchild of economist Arthur Okun, who wanted to compare how peoples’ moods shifted during the terms of different US presidents.
But the most recent findings are the product of multiple revisions that have allowed Johns Hopkins University professor Steve Hanke to rank the world’s misery. Only 90 countries featured on the list, because many - such as North Korea - are not transparent about their economy.
South Africa’s eighth place was largely the result of a poor GDP and mass unemployment. In the past quarter the country’s unemployment rate has risen to a new high from 24.10 percent to 25.20 percent. That means there are now over 5 million people without work.
In a show of solidarity, South Africa’s misery was shared by its Brics partners. Brazil was the ninth most miserable and India was ranked 22nd.
Venezuela - with its strict currency controls and trickle down effect on consumer pricing - was the world’s capital of misery.
Japan topped the list as the world’s least miserable. A healthy GDP helped eradicate concerns over rising unemployment. Japan was followed by Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Qatar and Malaysia where there were similar circumstances.
China’s appearance in the top 10 is surprising. The country is regularly in the news for the appalling conditions in its factories, and is criticised for how little it pays its workers. In terms of this scale, China’s “happiness” is riding on the coattails of its rapid economic growth.
But Bagraim said the formula’s emphasis on unemployment was actually its strength.
During his 35 years dealing with workers, both employed and unemployed, he has concluded that having a job could be the difference between misery and happiness.
It goes against the philosophy of countless workers who grumble behind the desk but the lawyer is sticking to his guns.
“The index’s focus may just be external factors, but at the end of the day it creates our being. Having a job literally defines you as a person and as a part of society, I’ve seen so many people broken after losing their jobs and joining the ranks of the unemployed.”
Bagraim said on the country’s current trajectory, the unemployment situation was set to worsen, and South Africa could join the bottom four in the relegation zone.
He said a quick intervention was needed - stripping back regulation and red tape to allow small businesses to flourish.